Posts Tagged "Jacob Wetterling"

For Jacob

jacob-picture-11-yrToday is Saturday, September 17, 2016. It’s been eleven days since I sat in that courtroom at the U.S. District Courthouse in Minneapolis and heard Danny Heinrich confess to the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.

It’s been eleven days, and I still can’t think about it without crying.

Admittedly, I’ve been through some hard stuff in my lifetime. In 1999, two of my closest friends each lost a child. Cody was ten years old when he was struck and killed by a car while biking. Emma was two years old when she died from a cancerous brain tumor. As moms and friends, we clung to each other for strength and support. We questioned fate and silently waged our own battles with God. All of it was devastating and traumatizing. It changed who we were, forever.

But this. How do you explain this? It has taken me eleven days to get a grip, and still, I cry every time I think of that day. I sat there, three rows behind Patty, and had to listen to what that horrible man did to her son. I had to close my eyes through most of it, tears streaming down my face. I questioned why I had even come. I felt sick, wanted to leave… couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Then, when Heinrich finished his confession about Jacob, he moved on to Jared. In chilling detail, he confessed what he had done to that scared 12 year old boy who has since become a close friend. Until that moment, I don’t think I fully appreciated how lucky Jared is to be alive.

After it was over, I couldn’t take anymore. I bolted. I didn’t stay for the press conference… I just couldn’t. I left and drove to my parents’ house where I crumbled into my mother’s arms. Even at 49, I needed her to hug me and make the world right again. We hugged and cried, then she made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich… toasted… just how I like it. Later, she poured me a glass of wine and we cried some more.

Since that horrible day in the courtroom, I’ve struggled to make sense of everything that’s happened over the past few weeks… months… years. I look back over the entire journey and question how I ever ended up on this road in the first place. What started as mere curiosity eventually became a battle of faith and purpose. I plodded along, never knowing exactly where I was headed and wanting to quit more often than I care to admit.

Why? For Jacob.

This boy… this eleven year old boy that I’ve never met… captured my soul. He captured all of our souls with his smiling face, his yellow sweater, and his youthful innocence. He was a symbol for all that was right with the world… our world. It was a world of backyard sleepovers, bomb pops, and neighborhood water fights. Saturday cartoons, Vikings football, and Labor Day telethons. It was good, and predictable, and fun.

And then, on that awful day in 1989, our good and predictable world slipped away. We bumbled around, lamenting fate, losing faith, and becoming bitter. And then, a warrior emerged. She was a warrior who was willing to fight for our world… for bomb pops and water fights. She was tiny, but fierce, and we clung to her words, because she spoke of hope and change. If she was willing to fight, then by God, we would follow her into battle.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-20-23-pmAnd follow, we did. We marveled at this tiny warrior and all that she stood for. She became Super Mom to us. She grew and effected change that rippled well beyond the borders of our own little state. She helped write powerful legislation that would eventually make the entire country safer for children. She fought, and she fought, and she fought, never once losing sight of her ultimate goal… to find her missing son.

Jacob, I never knew you, but I do know you came from good stuff. You must be so very proud of your mom. Her drive has always been fueled by hope, and she has fought tirelessly for the world you used to know. In fighting for you, she fought for all of us, every day. Looking back, I have to believe you’ve had a hand in all that’s transpired here. In your short eleven years, you also fought for what was right and fair. Today and forever, we will honor your legacy by trying to do the same.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
–Genesis 50:20

(Thank you sueney65 for passing that along.)

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It’s over.

On Friday, September 2nd, law officials discovered the remains of Jacob Wetterling on a farm in Paynesville, Minnesota. Law officials were led there by Danny Heinrich, who was named a person of interest in Jacob’s case back on October 29, 2015 after being arrested on child pornography charges.

After nearly 27 years… it’s over.

MplsStarTrib_9-4-2016I’ve dreamed about this day for years. What would the headlines say? What would the public’s response be? How would the people of St. Joseph react?

Now that it’s here… now that Jacob has finally been found… there is no joy… just deep and profound sadness for this 11 year old boy who touched all our hearts for so many years. Yes, we have answers and, in time, that will bring peace. But for now it all just feels very raw and real.

Truth be told, I’m a wreck.

I was drawn to write about Jacob’s case for reasons I’ll never fully understand. The more I learned, the more I cared. The more I cared, the more I craved answers. Like every other Minnesotan who lived through the horror of his abduction, I wanted to know what happened to Jacob. And with each passing moment, it felt like time and opportunity were slipping away. I thought if I could just get his story out there, people might start paying attention. Maybe they could even add details that might help. More than anything, I just didn’t want people to forget.

I published my first blog post about Jacob’s story on October 23, 2010, one day after the 21st anniversary of his abduction. Read “Where are you Jacob?”…

After three weeks, I wrapped up Jacob’s story and may never have come back to it if it wasn’t for an email I received on January 18, 2013… over two years later. It read:

Hello Joy – My name appears in your articles. I’m working to clear lots of wrong info out there about me. Are you curious or do you care…?
Thanks…. if so…send a tele#?
– Dan Rassier

I wasn’t sure if I should reply or not, but there was one thing I did know. Yes… I cared. So, I emailed Dan back and we agreed to meet at 6:30pm at the St. Cloud Library on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. Had it not been for Dan getting in touch with me and sharing his story, I likely would never have gotten back to blogging about Jacob. I published Dan’s story on February 23, 2013, and since then, I’ve blogged about little else. Read Dan’s story…

This weekend, when I learned that Jacob had been found, I emailed Dan to let him know I was thinking of him. I wanted him to know that, for what it was worth, I had always believed him. I wished him and his family peace… they surely deserve it. He sent a very kind reply which meant a lot to me.

Over the past few days, I have been receiving emails, texts and phone calls from reporters all over the state, and even the country. There is one in particular who deserves a lot of credit in this amazing journey of discovery, and that is Esme Murphy from WCCO. She was the first person to really pay attention to what Jared and I were doing in Paynesville, and she contacted me shortly after I published my first blog post about the Paynesville attacks. It was October 22, 2013… the 24th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction. Not long after, Jared and I agreed to do an interview with Esme, which aired on May 14, 2014. See the interview…

I’d also like to acknowledge the countless others who have played a major role in this journey. I have received thousands of comments and private messages on my blog, along with hundreds of phone calls and texts from people passing along tips or suggestions about the case. I diligently organized and passed them along to law enforcement, never knowing if one of them might turn out to be the “the piece” that solved the puzzle. Thank you to everyone who cared, got involved, and took the initiative to pass those tips along. Who knows what may have been helpful along the way.

But without question, the one person who absolutely made the difference in bringing Jacob home was Jared Scheierl. He was the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring who was abducted and assaulted just nine months before Jacob. When I decided to dig back into this story back in early 2013, I wanted to focus on people who had a direct connection to the case. One of the people I knew I wanted to interview was Jared. I found him through ancestry records and then contacted him through Facebook. I never in a million years thought he would reply to my message. To this day, I am so very grateful that he did. Read Jared’s story…

Jared is one of the kindest and bravest people I know. He has become a good friend, and we have been through a lot together over the past three and a half years. When we first learned about the Paynesville attacks that took place in the late 1980s, it was Jared who willingly put himself out there, reaching out to victims and sharing his own story so that they might, in turn, be wiling to share their own. Without Jared, this story would never have unfolded the way it did. His enthusiasm and dogged determination were contagious. We found ourselves driven to find answers, not only for Jared and the Wetterlings, but also for all those young men who were never truly heard. The more we learned, the bigger it felt. Without knowing why, we were convinced that the Paynesville incidents were somehow important to the bigger picture.

In the end, it all came back to Paynesville… Jared’s hometown. The story started there, and it ended there. Jacob was found in Paynesville… a town just 15 miles up the road from me. Fifteen miles. He was buried in a spot that I have driven past countless times in my lifetime, never knowing that he was RIGHT THERE this whole time. Jacob and Jared were together in the same small town for the past 26 years.

How do you put words to that?

As hard as it is to give any credit to Danny Heinrich in this story, I’m just so incredibly grateful that, in the end, he did the right thing. Because of him, the healing can finally begin for the Wetterling family, and for the entire state. We have hurt, and hoped, and prayed alongside them for almost 27 years. Today, it’s finally over.

The Wetterlings have become like family to me, and I love them dearly. They are good, kind people who have changed the world because of their undying dedication to their missing son. Patty, especially, has worked tirelessly to fight for children’s rights, to educate parents, to train law enforcement, and to spread a message of love and hope that has resonated with us for all these 27 years. She did it for Jacob… Jacob’s Hope.

Today, I continue to pray for the Wetterlings. I’m sure there will be many more hard days to face in the weeks and months to come, but with answers, I hope they can finally start to grieve and heal. I will be forever grateful to them for believing in me.

#ThinkingJacob
#JacobsHope

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Happy Birthday Jacob

Tomorrow, February 17, 2016, will mark Jacob Wetterling’s 38th birthday. With permission, I’m sharing a special birthday message, written by his mom, Patty.

#ThinkingJacob

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Happy Birthday Jacob!

IMG_1397_revBirthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet. Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight! I have watched the tape of your last birthday party over and over. We rented a suite at the Holiday Inn for your party. You and Aaron raced back and forth in the pool and took turns throwing each other in the deep end. It was so much fun!

I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers. Last fall, 26 years later, news of possible answers had your story as the number two news coverage in the region. That’s pretty amazing 26 years later. People care. There are more good people than bad in the world and people still hope.

My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong… so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.

I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims. Today, we ask everyone to volunteer, attend events, send financial support and share safety information. The non-profit work continues on a daily basis. Sometimes sexual exploitation and abduction are on the news, and sometimes not, yet we all rely on the support and expertise of these agencies when we need them. They are there for us. They need our support as well.

And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.
We love you Jacob and we’ll never stop searching for you!
I so wish for a happy birthday for you…

Mom
Patty Wetterling

For more information, visit:

Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, www.JWRC.org

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, www.missingkids.org

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“Catch Me If You Can”

I have some new information to share about the wood-paneled station wagon that I just learned about this past weekend. If you recall, this is the car that was seen by the young teens who used to ride their dirt bikes and 4-wheelers through the woods near Jacob’s abduction site. The gentleman I spoke to this weekend was also a part of this group, and he had a few more interesting tidbits to share about the station wagon and the man in the woods.

First of all, I believe we have two different sightings here, possibly three. As I reported in my original post titled, “The men in the woods,” this group of boys saw an older man with a notebook sitting off in the brush, just inside the entrance to the woods. They didn’t think much of it and proceeded on to the party pit to have a quick smoke. On their way out, they saw him again. He had moved closer to them at that point, and they wondered if maybe he had been following them.

Another member of this group reported seeing another man in the woods… this time up in a tree. He said he was younger and thinner than the first man. He wore a baseball cap and had a clipboard. The boys saw the man while they were riding their dirt bikes through the woods that day. Later, they noticed him again, but this time he had moved to a different tree. Weird.

The gentleman I spoke to this weekend had more to add to the story. He used to live south of St. Ben’s, just off College Avenue. He says he and his friends used to ride their dirt bikes and four-wheelers in those woods nearly every day. He also remembers seeing a guy up in a tree, but the man he remembers seeing was older, possibly in his 50s. He was wearing a blaze orange hat and was definitely not an art student. This guy seemed out of place, like he didn’t belong there, and none of the kids had ever seen him before.

There are two interesting things this young man was able to add to the story. First, he says there was a field road that ran from College Avenue (just across from the cemetery) all the way over to 16th/91st Avenue. It ran along the south end of Klinefelter Park and was a straight shot all the way to the abduction site. Another interesting thing this guy remembers is about the car. On the day he saw it, it was parked just off 16th/91st Avenue on the approach/field road which would later become Dale Street. He remembers the car being light blue, possibly a station wagon, but he couldn’t remember if it had wood panels or not. What he DOES remember seems significant. The car had two distinct bumper stickers. One said something about Ole and Lena; the other said, “Catch Me If You Can.”

OK… back it up a bit.

1989-catch-me-if-you-can-poster1Catch Me If You Can was a Hollywood movie that was filmed in the St. Cloud area during the fall of 1988. It was directed by Stephen Sommers, a St. Cloud native, and pre-premiered there on August 24, 1989. It’s a low-budget “muscle car” film about a group of high school teens who are trying to raise money and save their school by betting on illegal car races. Much of the footage was filmed at Apollo and Cathedral High Schools, and included several local residents who served as extras in the movie. The film officially premiered to a national audience on October 14, 1989, just eight days before Jacob’s abduction. (Click the movie poster on the right to read more about the film.)

The interesting thing is… two months after Jacob’s abduction, police asked for the public’s help in finding a station wagon with a “Catch Me If You Can” bumper sticker that was seen near the Wetterling’s residence in the days just prior to Jacob’s abduction.

All three of the following newspaper articles were published on December 22, 1989:

From the St. Cloud Times:

The Jacob Wetterling Task Force also is trying to find a suspicious car that was seen in the St. Joseph area about a week before Jacob, 11, was seized Oct. 22 at gunpoint.

The car recently came to authorities’ attention after residents of an apartment building near the Wetterlings said they had seen the car parked for most of a day. Because it was about two months ago, they couldn’t provide an exact day, Gigler said.

The car is described as a dark brown, four-door station wagon dating to 1970. It had a luggage rack and considerable rust on the fender and doors. The car reportedly had a black and orange sticker that said “Catch Me If You Can.” The movie was filmed in the St. Cloud area and premiered here last summer.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

In another development yesterday, investigators were trying to locate a 1970s-model full-sized four-door station wagon seen three days before Jacob’s abduction on the rural road where he was kidnapped.

The dark brown station wagon is said to have a luggage rack and a missing molding on the passenger side. A rear bumper sticker reads, “Catch me if you can,” an apparent reference to the title of a movie shot two years ago in St. Cloud.

“We feel that with the bumper sticker it’s a local vehicle,” Gigler said. A bulletin was sent yesterday to alert police agencies to look for the car.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

In a related development, authorities said they are looking for a full-size, brown, 1970s 4-door model station wagon seen in the woods west of the Wetterling abduction site three days before the kidnapping. The car did not belong to anyone in the neighborhood and police want to question its owner, Gigler said.

The wagon had a luggage rack, missing body molding on the passenger side and a rear bumper sticker that read, “Catch Me If You Can,” a reference to a movie of the same name filmed in St. Cloud. The movie previewed in St. Cloud this August, leading police to believe the car belongs to an area resident. St. Cloud is about 6 miles east of St. Joseph.

I’m unclear whether this lead about the station wagon came from the boys who witnessed the man/men in the woods, or if it came from another source. I’m curious whether the “dark brown” station wagon was confused with the “dark brown wood panels” that the boys remember.

At any rate, my main question is this. Where did these bumper stickers come from? Were they handed out at the private premiere in August? Or, maybe later, at the public premiere on October 14th? Or, maybe they were handed out during the filming of the movie, back in November of 1988? Where were they printed? Where were they distributed? At the high schools? Movie theaters? Convenience stores? Does anyone else remember getting or having one of these bumper stickers? If we can figure out that much, maybe we can figure out where the driver of the car got his bumper sticker.

And one more question… does anyone know which apartment building the police were talking about in the St. Cloud Times article above? If this is the same station wagon that the boys saw down by the woods, I wonder what he was doing at that apartment building. Did he live there? Or was he just staying with an acquaintance?

A little help here… please comment!

#ThinkingJacob

NEXT: A wilderness trek for Jacob…

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“A Lifetime Lesson”

I recently received a message on my blog from the mother of a boy who was involved in one of the attempted abductions in Paynesville. He had written a paper about the incident for his English class during his senior year of high school. His mom had recently come across it, so she sent me a copy. I contacted the young man who wrote it to ask if he would allow me to post it on my blog, and he graciously agreed.

This is not a new incident. I originally reported this young man’s story last June in a post titled, “Another incident and some exciting news.” However, at that time, this young man was trying to remember details from 1996, almost twenty years ago. This paper was written only five years after the incident, so it not only provides important details, it also gives us a little better idea of when the incident may have taken place. He states in the paper that he was about 12 years old and he was helping his wrestling coach teach Jaycee Wrestling. Since the Jaycee Wrestling program was for kids in grades one to six, it would stand to reason that this young man was a 7th grader at the time, and because it was mid-March, his wrestling season had already ended. That would put the date as March 1992.

This presents a bit of a conundrum. This incident would have taken place much later than the other incidents that occurred between 1986-1989. It would also mean that convicted child molestor Duane Hart, who was arrested in January 1990, could not have been involved since he was already behind bars.

So where does that leave us? Are all these incidents related? Or were there several different pedophiles who were stalking boys in the Paynesville area?

Read the paper and see if you have any insights.

A Lifetime Lesson

It was a mid March day and everything was going great. School was over for the day and I was going to help Coach Virg teach Jaycee Wrestling. This consists of grades one to six. I helped Virg teach some moves by demonstrating them on him. Then I would go around and help the kids do a move on their friend. Little did I know that I was about to face the scariest moment of my life, one that would make an everlasting impression.

Soon it was five o’clock and time to go. Everyone put their street clothes back on and headed outside to be picked up by their parents. I stayed there and waited for every kid to get picked up. One kid didn’t get picked up for a long time, so we both headed back into the school to use the phone so he could call his parents. Suddenly I was thinking, “Where’s MY dad?” He was supposed to pick me up, too. The boy I was helping called his house but no one was home. He started to cry and said, “They forgot about me and I’m going to be here all night.” I told him since they weren’t home, maybe they were on their way or were even there now. We walked back outside. As we stepped out the door, his ride pulled up. He told me he was sorry and left.

But now what? My dad still wasn’t there and the phone was always busy. It was starting to get darker by the second. You also have to understand that I was only about twelve years old. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited. He still didn’t show up. Something else was sort of peculiar, too. I spotted a car that continuously drove very slowly around the block. I bet it went around at least ten times. It was not an average looking car. It was a very beat up army green colored car with a white fabric top and tons of rust on the lower section. It looked as though this lower portion could just crumble if it would hit a bump in the road.

The car drover slower and slower each time it went around, and as it came towards me, I noticed the driver stared directly at me. I didn’t know if he was going to ask for directions or just what exactly he was doing.

This was around the time there had been talk of several abductions, attempted abductions, and molestings. I was getting so scared. I was saying to myself, “Dad hurry up, hurry up,” as if he would really hear me. The car went around one last time and finally took a turn into an alley. I was so happy, or I guess you could say relieved. But then about five minutes later, I saw a guy walking down the sidewalk toward me. Now I was really ready to crap in my pants.

Because the car with the strange man was no longer lurking around, all I could imagine was that this was the same man who had just turned his car into the alley. The only thing I could think to do was walk to my cousin’s house, which was only about a block away. That could possibly be a bad idea, too. But I couldn’t just stand there either, so I proceeded on my way. Just by the use of my peripheral vision and by the sound of the movement on the sidewalk, I knew the guy was right behind me. Every time I sped up my pace, I could hear by his footsteps that he did, too. I was never so scared in my life. When my mind actually understood what could be going on, I took off running as fast as my legs could go. I no longer heard anything that was going on around me. I didn’t even know if he was still right behind me. I probably reached my cousin’s house in about thirty seconds, but it felt like ten minutes. I was so glad I didn’t have to go any further.

When I reached my cousin’s house, I dashed inside, peeked out the door, and saw a fairly short guy with a medium build continue to walk by. He didn’t seem to be paying any special attention to anything, just briskly walking by. I wondered if he saw where I darted into and hoped he wouldn’t bother anyone there later. Oddly enough, it wasn’t really cold, but he had a black face mask on and he seemed to be dressed all in black. I just got the shivers.

I tried calling my dad again to see what was going on, finally got him, and told him to pick me up. Actually, I said, “Where in the hell are you?” Somehow there had been some misunderstanding. I was safe, but I just couldn’t explain the fear that was still going through my body. I actually felt sick as I pictured all the things that could have happened.

Mom and dad were also shook up when I told them what happened, and when my dad finally picked me up, we went straight to Officer Drager’s house. I had to tell him everything that happened and try to describe what I saw. He was supposed to meet me again to get an actual statement, but that was the end of it. Not much else was ever said about the whole issue. My parents and I did drive around for a short time that evening to see if we could spot the man or the green car. We never had any luck.

I told several friends, and my parents told some of theirs, just for precautionary measures. The worst part was they all sort of just blew us off. I knew if it had been them (especially since there had been so much talk about abductions at the time), they would have felt differently. My parents even began to see why things like this continue to happen. People don’t take warnings seriously enough until it’s too late. My whole family was shook up for quite some time just realizing how lucky we may have been and appreciating each other even more. That may sound sort of weird to others, until it happens to them.

At any rate, I didn’t do much walking alone at night for even short distances for quite some time. I’m a much more cautious person. Even now when I run to the high school from my home, my mother makes me call when I get there. She says, “You just never know if there is a real problem and you wait, you’ve already made circumstances worse by wasting that time thinking nothing is wrong. I forgot to call the other night when I ran out to the school because I got distracted as soon as I walked in the door. My mom almost had a heart attack. She even sent dad out there to look for me, just to make sure. I guess some lessons learned actually last a lifetime.

The young man who wrote this paper also provided me with a map that shows where he was standing outside the school, where the man pulled into the alley, and which direction the man came from when he started walking toward him.

Here’s the map:

Click to view a larger version

Click to view a larger version

One final thing. I happened to be driving through Paynesville with a friend last weekend, on our way to St. Cloud. We pulled off the new bypass to stop and get gas, and ended up driving through town to get back onto Highway 23. As we neared the main drag downtown, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jacob’s billboard that was placed last October was still up, now six months later.

Way to go, Paynesville.

Click to view a larger version

Click to view a larger version

NEXT: “Catch Me If You Can”…

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